Sep 17

Secondary Characters – Are They Important?

Writing FictionBefore I get into whether secondary characters are important or not, what is a secondary character?

A secondary character is any character in the story aside from the protagonist (main character) and the antagonist (villain or force in opposition to the protagonist).

Just a side note here, an antagonist doesn’t have to be a character. It can be an internal emotional or mental problem. Or, it can be an external force, such as a category 4 hurricane that the protagonist must prepare for or fight to survive.

It’s important to mention also that there are two categories or ‘subclasses’ of secondary characters:

1. The supporting character.

A supporting character is a substantial part of your story. She or he is part of the protagonist’s life and is usually there throughout the story helping move the story forward.

An example of this is Chen from “Walking Through Walls”. Wang is the protagonist and Chen is his best friend. Wang bounces many of his problems off Chen and Chen advises him. Chen is the voice of reason and calm while Wang ‘wants what he wants’ and is impatient.

This friendship is an essential part of the story. It’s part of what makes Wang choose one course of action over another in the end.

Sometimes supporting characters can have their own subplot. Using “Walking Through Walls” again, Chen was chosen by his village to become an Eternal apprentice. His village was invaded by neighboring warriors and his younger sister was abducted.

Supporting characters can be a catalyst for the direction the story takes.

Chen’s backstory also plays a part in the direction Wang takes in his character arc.

Along with this, supporting characters are essential to a book series.

Think of just about any series on TV (old or new): The Big Bang Theory; Superman; NCIS; Castle; The X-Files; even the MythBusters. You expect to see the supporting cast. You’d be disappointed if you didn’t.

2. The minor character.

A minor character is someone who may make a brief appearance in the story or is there in the background throughout. They give the story more authenticity and dimension. There will most likely be various minor characters throughout a book.

For example, in “Walking Through Walls” Wang and Chen are in an apprenticeship with other students. These students help create a dimensional world for the story. But, while they exist and are mentioned here and there, they aren’t essential to the story.

A great example of a minor character is the taxi driver, Sylvester, from the 1947 movie, “The Bishop’s Wife”. Sylvester was only in a couple of scenes, but he was memorable while adding nothing more than humor to those particular scenes.

Summing it Up

Getting back to the title question of whether supporting characters are important to stories, they are. They are an essential part of every story.

Sources:
http://iml.jou.ufl.edu/projects/fall10/kane_amanda/character_types.htm
http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/how-to-write-effective-supporting-characters
http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/what-is-a-minor-character-understanding-the-minor-characters-role

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Jan 25

Rewriting a Folktale – Walking Through Walls

Middle-grade fantasy adventure storyWhen a writer’s muse seems to be on vacation, she may be at a loss for story ideas. While there are a number of sites and tools online to help get the creative juices flowing, one tool that writers might overlook is studying folktales.

Reading folktales is a great way to spin a new yarn, especially for children’s writing. I recently did a review of a children’s picture book published by Sylvan Dell that was based on an American Indian folktale. This shows they are publishable.

Folktales, also known as tall tales, and folklore, are stories specific to a country or region. They are usually short stories dealing with everyday life that come from oral tradition that is passed from generation to generation. Most often these tales involve animals, heavenly objects, and other non-human entities that possess human characteristics.

There is Mexican folklore, Irish folklore, Chinese folklore, as well as folklore from many other countries that have tales unique to their area. There is also American folklore that encompasses stories from each of the 50 states. There is a huge supply of stories to spin and weave.

In addition to reviewing a couple of published children’s books that were based on folktales, I wrote a children’s fantasy story based on an ancient Chinese tale.

Interestingly, prior to receiving an outline of the tale from a Chinese nonfiction writer I knew from one of my writing groups, I never thought of rewriting folktales. But, once given the outline, I loved the story and the message it presented. The outline itself was very rough and written with an adult as the main character (MC), which is often the case with very old folktales.

After reading the story I knew the MC would need to become a child. I think every children’s writer is aware that children want to read about children, not adults. And, the MC needs to be a couple of years older than the target audience the author is writing for.

Based on this, I decided to make my MC a 12-year-old boy. And, since I liked the ancient Chinese flavor of the story, I kept it and made the story take place in the 16th century China. After this was set, I needed to come up with a title and the MC’s name.

When choosing a title for your book, it’s important to keep it in line with the story and make it something that will be marketable to the age group you’re targeting. I chose Walking Through Walls, and it is scheduled to be available March 2011(published through 4RV Publishing).

As far as the character’s name, you will need to base it on the time period and geographic location of the story, unless the character is out of his element. Since my story was to take place in China, I used a Chinese name, Wang.

To keep the flavor of your story consistent, you will also need to give it a feeling of authenticity. This will involve some research. How did the people dress during the time of your story? What names were used? What did they eat? What type of work or schooling was available? What locations might you mention? What type of crops and vegetation would be present? What types of homes did they live in? There are many aspects of the story that you will want to make as authentic as possible. And, it does matter, even in fiction stories; it will add richness to your story.

The next time you’re in the library, ask the librarian to show you a few folktales. Then imagine how you might rewrite one or more of them for today’s children’s book market.

Walking Through Walls was honored with a Children’s Literary Classics 2012 Silver Award! Get your copy today at Amazon.

MORE ON WRITING FOR CHILDREN

The Book Summary – Five Must-Know Components
Learn to Write for Children – 3 Basic Tools
Children’s Writing and Publishing Jargon – 11 of the Basics

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Jan 21

Writing a Fiction Story – Walking Through Walls Backstory

Middle-grade fantasy adventure story

By Karen Cioffi

It’s always interesting how writers find ideas when writing a fiction story. Some may simply come up with an idea, others may see something that triggers a story, and sometimes a story is handed to a writer.

I had never thought of rewriting a folktale until being given a rough outline of an ancient Chinese tale, Taoist Master of the Lao Mountain. This was the inception of middle-grade, fantasy adventure Walking Through Walls.

It was June of 2008, and I belonged to a writing critique group along with a Chinese nonfiction writer who had a basic outline of an ancient Chinese tale that he wanted to pass along to a fiction writer. Since writing a fiction story wasn’t his cup of tea, he gave me the outline.

After reading the outline, I loved the lessons it could bring to children. Folktales come from all over the world and usually provide morale messages geared toward doing right, rather than wrong. These tales are a wonderful way to teach children through an engaging and entertaining story.

Since the tale, as with many ancient tales, involved an adult as the protagonist the first step needed was to rewrite it for today’s children’s market, meaning it needed a child protagonist. Wanting to stay as close to the original tale, I used some of its flavor, descriptions, and names. That’s how the main character’s name, Wang, was chosen. Along with keeping the story’s flavor, I wanted it to be engaging for today’s child, so I came up with new characters, the dragon, enhanced storyline and plot, and so on.

Having an outline to guide me was a great help; it offered a general direction, like an arrow pointing North. So, as I began to rewrite the tale it was able to take on a life of its own, while still heading North. And, to ensure the story kept its flavor, I made sure to include bits of the original story to keep it as close to the tale’s outline as possible.

Working on the story, I knew it needed to take place in ancient China, so decided to use the 16th century as the backdrop for the story. To add an element of realism to the story, I researched ancient China, including foods, flowers, dwellings, and clothing. I also contacted the Chinese writer who gave me the outline for some additional cultural information.

I worked on the story for well over a year, revising it, having it critiqued numerous times, revising it some more, and even had it professionally edited before beginning to send it out for submissions. Fortunately for me, the timing coincided with the 2009 Muse Online Writers Conference and I signed up to have a pitch with 4RV Publishing. As nervous as I was, the pitch went well and the manuscript was accepted. For the next year, it was more revisions, tweaking, additional elements to the story, and editing to make the middle-grade, fantasy adventure, Walking Through Walls, better than before.

Then, the story was ready for a cover illustration. Aidana WillowRaven was assigned to my book and although the dragon in the story was described as “a shimmering golden dragon,” Aidana ‘felt’ the flavor of the story pointed to a more oriental type dragon. We went back and forth a bit about the dragon’s size and shape, but Aidana’s vision of what the dragon should look like was perfect.

Now, the description of the ‘golden dragon’ in the story needed to be corrected. So, I changed the text to read, “Suddenly a magnificent dragon with shimmering red and silver scales appeared.” Done. The description of the dragon and the cover matched; we were ready to move forward.

Next came the interior design formatting, which includes the text. After blocking the text it was determined another six pages was needed to make the spine wide enough. So, I had to come up with more content. As the story was complete, to fill the page count I came up with an Author’s Note page, four pages of Reading Comprehension, an Activities Page, and after more research, eight pages of information on the Ming Dynasty time period and the Chinese dragon.

Finally, Walking Through Walls, a middle-grade fantasy adventure was published and won The Children’s Literary Classics 2012 Silver Award.

Writing a fiction story from its inception to publication can take many paths; this is the path Walking Through Walls took.

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